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Interview: Carlos Brooks on “Quid Pro Quo”

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06132008_quidproquo1.jpgBy Matt Singer

“I wanted to do something completely original and different that I hadn’t seen before,” said Carlos Brooks of his feature directorial debut. Though grounded in the traditions of detective fiction and film noir, Brooks’ “Quid Pro Quo” is indeed something wholly its own; a film that lives inside those genres’ boundaries while carving its own unique place outside them. In the film, Nick Stahl plays Isaac, a paraplegic public radio host who gets an anonymous tip about a guy who tried to bribe a doctor into amputating his leg. Researching the story introduces him to an underground (and evidently authentic) community of “wannabes” who desperately wish to be paralyzed, and to a mysterious blonde named Fiona (Vera Farmiga).

Before the thriller elements begin to congeal, “Quid Pro Quo” is particularly appealing in its detailed view of Isaac’s day-to-day existence; the way in which, for instance, he can’t work an umbrella and his wheelchair at the same time when he’s caught in the rain. But Brooks was quick to point out that those scenes are not about pity. “It isn’t that we should feel sorry for him,” Brooks said, “because Isaac doesn’t feel sorry for himself. But getting passed by — that’s a universal image that every human being can relate to. I wanted to defeat those unconscious barriers between able-bodied and disabled people so we could get into who this character really is.” I spoke with the first-time director about his impressive debut on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s already prepping his next film.

What was the origin of this project?

I initially had this idea of somebody who would be impaired in some way and would get some sort of talisman that would help them overcome that impairment, and in return for that gift I thought they’d have to help the person who impaired them in the first place. I wrote a few outlines and it just never came to life. I finally settled on a story about a person with a paraplegic injury, and one night I started Googling some word that I thought would get me into that world more authentically and found these people who suffer from what’s called body integrity disorder, or “wannabes.”

06132008_quidproquo2.jpgDid you watch other movies with disabled protagonists to prepare to make “Quid Pro Quo?”

Of course. You’ve got to go back to “Coming Home,” which I think is one of the finest films made that show people with disability. A lot of movies that I wouldn’t name do a really poor job of showing characters in that regard. They suffer from what I suffered from in the beginning of my outlines; I assumed I was more comfortable with [physical] disability than I was. In reality, I was writing about it rather than trying to imagine myself in that world writing from it. A lot of movies are just about [the disability] — the characters are just used as devices for sympathy. There’s a Hollywood tendency to show the hero, to prove he’s a good guy, stopping off at the home of a lady who uses a wheelchair to bring her groceries, which is absurd — she can get in her own car and drive to the store and get her groceries.

The movie looks unusually warm and romantic for something shot digitally. How did you achieve that?

We did some things that, to my mind, no one’s ever consciously done before. I shot on a Sony 900 camera, and we used the 950 for a few scenes where it was a tight space. My production designer, Roshelle Berliner, and the [director of photography] Michael McDonough, and I experimented with shiny metallic surfaces to trick the video lens into thinking it’s film. I don’t know why this works, but it does. It tricks the chip in the video camera into softening those hard video lines and edges. If you walked on the set, you would think it’s the strangest looking place because Isaac’s apartment was full of wallpaper with metallic inlays. But on video, it looks like film. It gives it this Sidney Lumet-circa-“The Verdict” look, and that’s what I wanted.

Why was that?

I wanted Isaac to be in a very comfortable place during the story. I wanted his world to be something of his own creation, a place he felt he’d really come to master. I could have shot it in a more cinema vérité way, and said, “Let’s not design the sets. Let’s go run and gun and shoot handheld.” On one hand, that style of shooting can forgive a multitude of sins, because whatever you do, you’re just being “real.” On the other hand, it would not have been nearly as inviting as what we came up with finally. I wanted the film to be much more seductive.

06132008_quidproquo3.jpgGiven that this was your first feature, did you set any rules for yourself as a director before you started shooting?

I had all kinds of fancy ideas. I wrote a whole 500-page book with notes for myself on every scene that I could flip to while shooting or editing. I called it “The Prompt Book.” I got that from watching “The Godfather” DVD; Coppola does this. The categories were like “What’s the core of the scene?” or “What’s the practical purpose of the scene?” or “What’s the tone?” My favorite one was “What are the pitfalls?” How many different ways can I screw it up? When you shoot it, you realize “Nope, didn’t think of that.” [laughs]

One idea I had was the camera would always stay on the wheelchair level when Isaac is using his chair. Then when he stands, the camera will stand with him so we will feel that elevation and the liberation from that lower level. Those are great ideas, but at the end of the day, those are conceits. When I was actually shooting in my 18-day schedule in every borough in Manhattan, I began to understand that the movie is not about staying in some sort of physical point of view. It’s more important that I figured out his emotional point of view. Plus, when you’re moving that fast, the rules get thrown out. I forgot about even having the rule in the first place.

When you showed the movie at places like Sundance, what was the most popular question at Q & A’s?

[Regarding the “wannabes”] “Have you ever spoken to these people?” or “Are they real?” It’s really centered around this phenomenon. There’s no way around it. There’s something about this phenomenon, as specific and small as anything can be — was there ever a smaller subject matter that related to a smaller group of people? — but there’s something about it that strikes some universal chord. I can talk and talk about all kinds of things with you, but the bottom line is the thrust of the story is going to be this thing that fascinated me in the first place.

That said, have you gotten wind of any reaction from the real wannabe community about the movie?

No, not much. I think people like that tend to have a very online kind of reality. I’m sure there are people, I just haven’t met them.

So no opening night screening parties or anything?

[laughs] With the catering and the whole thing? No, but you never know…

[Photo: Nick Stahl; Stahl and Vera Farmiga; Director Carlos Brooks on set – “Quid Pro Quo,” Magnolia Pictures, 2008]

“Quid Pro Quo” is now open in limited release.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

via GIPHY

IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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